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White House Is Retrieving E-Mails

July 14, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An independent auditor hired to review the retrieval of White House’s e-mails told a federal judge Friday that he was never told of the judge’s order to produce the messages promptly.

The testimony from Gregory Ekberg came at the end of a lengthy pretrial hearing in a civil lawsuit against the White House. Ekberg of Vistronix, a McLean, Va., information technology company, said he had never heard of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s order, filed last April, to produce the e-mails as soon as possible.

At the time, the White House said it hoped to have a system in place by June.

Ekberg testified earlier Friday that new and reliable equipment, approved by the FBI on Thursday, is helping the White House reassemble thousands of missing and once-thought irretrievable e-mails sought in a lawsuit against the Clinton administration. He and another White House computer specialist said a searchable database of the e-mails could be delivered to the judge in four weeks to six weeks.

But under direct questioning from Lamberth Friday, Ekberg said he was never told of any orders to produce the e-mails promptly.

The judge seemed incredulous when Ekberg, whose job is to review the entire project on an ongoing basis, said the judge’s order had never been discussed. Ekberg said the only deadline he was given required the e-mails to be copied by the end of 2000 _ and that came from a subcontractor hired by White House, he said.

Ekberg’s exchange with the judge came after several hours on the witness stand, during which he said workers struggled with three computer systems that either failed to copy the e-mails from master tapes or couldn’t produce exact copies, as required in the case. He said a fourth system, approved Thursday by the FBI, is now in use.

White House officials earlier this year said thousands of e-mails, including some from Vice President Al Gore’s office, were not properly archived and were lost because of a computer glitch.

As a result, the messages were never reviewed by White House lawyers to determine if they should be turned over to investigators under subpoena in cases ranging from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Whitewater to campaign fund raising.

Lamberth is holding the hearings to determine how to get the messages to investigators. Testimony was expected to continue Monday.

Because of an apparent programming error, incoming e-mail messages dating back to August 1996 were not searched in response to subpoenas by the Justice Department and congressional investigators.

Congress, Independent Counsel Robert Ray and the Justice Department are investigating whether the e-mail problem was an innocent mistake, as the White House contends, or part of an effort to obstruct their investigations into the Lewinsky scandal and the White House’s gathering of the FBI files of past Republican appointees.

The White House denies any wrongdoing.

House Republicans say the White House has dragged its feet in solving the problem and threatened technicians who revealed the glitch.

The lawsuit was filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. The group’s general counsel, Larry Klayman, told Lamberth that the White House intentionally hired consultants with little expertise in restoring the data in order to delay the investigation.

On Thursday, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., urged White House counsel Beth Nolan and Attorney General Janet Reno to support appointment of an outside expert to supervise the e-mail effort.

Burton said the House Government Reform Committee, which he heads, ``has no confidence that the White House will satisfy its obligations to produce information in a timely fashion.″